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Braves end 2017 without September flourish

September was a continuation of the team’s second-half slide.

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves
The closer, because it’s closing time on the season.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

It’s over, it’s finished, it’s done. The Braves played a full schedule of 162 games in 2017, and ended up with a 72-90 record, reflecting a four-win improvement over their 2016 mark, and falling right in the expected range of preseason wins. They are who we thought they were, in the end.

September was not very different from the rest of the Braves’ season in many regards. In short, they lost a lot more than they won. The team finished the season’s final month (plus one game in October) with a 13-17 record, good for a .433 winning percentage. That’s actually an interesting tidbit: the Braves had essentially the same win rate in April, May, and September, with their only winning month coming in June, and two much worse months immediately after (July = .400 winning percentage; August = .393 winning percentage). So, the calendar changed, the roster changed, and even a bunch of performances changed, but the results in the season’s first month and the season’s last month weren’t all too different.

Here’s what the month looked like, series-by-series:

  • Last two of three in Chicago to the Cubs (lost three of four in the series overall);
  • Lost two of three to the Rangers;
  • Won three of four against the Marlins, including three walkoffs;
  • Won two of three in Washington;
  • Lost two of three against the Mets;
  • Lost two of three against the Nationals;
  • Won two of three against the Phillies;
  • Lost three of four against the Mets in New York; and
  • Lost three of four to end the season in Miami.

The Braves managed one four-game winning streak, one four-game losing streak, and one six-game losing streak that was snapped on the season’s final day. As Scott detailed, the Braves will pick 8th in the 2018 MLB amateur (June) draft. For what it’s worth, they only had the 11th-worst run differential in baseball, so they actually could have had a worse draft slot had things turned out differently. (They ended a game behind their Pythagorean expectation of 73-89.)

  • The Braves finished the year as an average offensive club, and that was similarly true in September (98 wRC+, good for 15th in MLB and 8th in the NL). Kurt Suzuki, Jace Peterson (!), and Freddie Freeman chipped in the best offensive performances, but a number of other guys (Adonis Garcia, Matt Kemp, Dansby Swanson, Rio Ruiz, and Nick Markakis) had awful offensive ends to the season.
  • Defensively, the Braves put together a good month, thanks in large part to the insertion of Ozzie Albies onto the roster. While a tiny sample, Albies compiled nearly four runs above average in under 500 innings at the keystone. (DRS was less sanguine at just +1 over the same stretch.)
  • As far as overall position player value goes, the Braves finished 10th in MLB (fourth in the NL) in fWAR. So, they ended on a high note in that regard, as they had previously not finished higher than 13th in MLB for any single month. Thanks, Kurt Suzuki. Thanks, Ozzie Albies.
  • The rotation, which was overall average-ish for the season, pitched really well relative to the competition in September. However, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as September is when teams experiment with their roster and rotation a fair bit, while the Braves kept running out the same stable of young arms (plus Julio Teheran and R.A. Dickey) that they had previously. In any case, the Braves finished 22nd in ERA (11th in NL), 7th in FIP (fourth in NL), and 19th in xFIP (13th in NL). In case you’re like, wait, how is that actually good, consider that Braves starters actually pitched the most innings in the NL (fourth-most in MLB) this month (and also park effects). The rotation’s fWAR for the month was 3.0, tied for fourth-best in MLB.
  • The bullpen, in aggregate, was also decent, finishing 14th in ERA, 11th in FIP, and 17th in xFIP, good for 11th in reliever fWAR. That was a substantial improvement from most of the rest of the season, when the bullpen was terrible. There was actually an interesting evolution of the pitching value, month-by-month. The rotation more or less got better as the season went along, while the bullpen went from bad to decent to awful (July and August), and then pretty good in September. The addition of A.J. Minter and his hilarious -0.27 (yes, that’s a negative number) FIP for the month really helped, and Daniel Winkler was really good too.
  • Overall, the Braves finished with the sixth-best pitching fWAR in MLB for the month of September. Again, take that ranking with a bit of salt, since some good starters were rested by other teams in anticipation of the playoffs, but it’s still a good sign for the future.

September’s Most Excellent Braves Hitter - Ozzie Albies

It didn’t take Ozzie Albies long at all to start impressing. Last month, he put up a 107 wRC+, flashing a .188 ISO despite an uncomfortably low liner rate (17 percent) and a too-high fly ball rate (42 percent) for someone with his skillset. Adjustments were necessary despite the overall positive batting line, and make those adjustments he did. In September, his walk rate inreased, his strikeout rate fell, his liner rate went up to 20 percent at the expense of his fly ball rate, and while his ISO fell to .155, his wRC+ rightly climbed to a very good 117. By the way, his BABIP was under .320 in both months, so in neither case was he just getting by in an unsustainable way. He’s good, folks.

September’s Most Excellent Braves Starting Pitcher - Still Julio Teheran (but it also could be Luiz Gohara?)

Julio Teheran did not have the best season. In fact, that’s an understatement: he kind of had the worst season. For him, anyway. His 1.1 fWAR on the year tied his poor 2015 season, though as a minor consolation, it actually took him more innings to accumulate 1.1 fWAR two years ago.

Teheran finally appeared to turn a corner in August, putting up much better numbers (3.65 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 4.02 xFIP, 1.0 fWAR). He kind of carried that over into September (3.19 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 5.29 xFIP), including a dominant three-start stretch in the middle of the month (three earned runs allowed total) bookended by two poorer outings.

Overall, it is also justifiable, and perhaps necessary, to recognize Luiz Gohara here. After starting the season in High-A, Gohara rapidly ascended the ladder and proceeded to torment National League hitters in September with a 2.75 FIP (4.05 xFIP) and 1.0 fWAR. Gohara had two dominant outings and did pretty much everything right (lots of strikeouts, limiting walks), but wore down late in games a few times. Still, I fully expect him to be a monster for the Braves next year.

September’s Most Excellent Braves Relief Pitcher - Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter’s Beyond Videogame Numbers

Let’s get this out of the way: A.J. Minter had some hilariously unreal numbers in September, including a -0.27 FIP, an 0.96 xFIP, and a 48.9 strikeout percentage. Yes, that’s right: he struck out nearly half of the batters he faced across nearly 12 innings. That should definitely give him serious consideration, but there’s one small caveat: Minter mostly did it in low-leverage situations, which makes sense as a way of easing him into the league. When he did enter two high leverage situations in the season’s final weeks, the results weren’t great: the Mets walked off on him in one outing, and in the other, he was able to retire only one of the two batters he faced as the Marlins stormed back to defeat the Braves.

Arodys Vizcaino had much less impressive stats for September (3.05 FIP, 4.83 xFIP), but generally racked up the leverage and the WPA. While he did blow up horribly once (turned a 2-1 lead in the 8th against the Nationals into a game the Braves would end up losing by four runs), he also had a really great stretch of four games right before that where he came on and preserved either a one-run lead or a tie in walkoff territory, and then preserved another one run lead the next time he faced the Nationals.

Best Offensive Play - Ruiz Saves the Day

On September 10, the Braves played one of the crazier games this season, scoring-wise, against the Marlins. The Marlins jumped out to a 3-0 lead against R.A. Dickey, but the Braves put up a five-spot against Odrisamer Despaigne. The Marlins tied the game, and then scored one in the eighth and two in the ninth to put the Braves in a three-run hole during what would have been their last time up. The Braves looked like they might go quietly, as Jarlin Garcia got Ozzie Albies to fly out to start the inning. But, after a Freddie Freeman single and a Nick Markakis double, the tying run came to the plate in the form of Tyler Flowers. The Marlins left the lefty-throwing Garcia in the game, and it kind of worked, as Flowers only hit an RBI groundout that cut the lead to two, but gave the Braves just one more out before the game ended.

From there, Garcia lost it a bit, issuing a six-pitch walk to Lane Adams and then getting pulled from the game in favor of Javy Guerra. Guerra worked an 0-2 count on Johan Camargo, but then gave up an infield single on a hot smash to load the bases, still with two outs. That brought up Rio Ruiz, who fouled off the first two pitches he saw, took a ball, and then knotted the game back up with a single that ate up the Miami third baseman.

Weirdly enough, there’s no official video of this, which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it, given that it was the most important play of the game to that point. But, you can see it at the 30-second mark in the video below.

There was more excitement to be had, as Arodys Vizcaino worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 11th without allowing a run to score, and finally, Lane Adams ended the game with a one-out, two-run walkoff homer in the bottom of the inning.

Overall, though, a great moment for Ruiz, given that he has struggled mightily this year, and by far the highest WPA play of his young career.

Best Run-Stopping Play - Winkler Bails out Newcomb

This recap has not mentioned neither Dan Winkler nor Sean Newcomb so far, even though both were big parts of the team’s success in September. While not quite Minter-tier, Winkler also put up a sparkling 2.00 FIP (3.89 xFIP) for the month; Newcomb, meanwhile, made four starts and didn’t allow more than three runs in any of them, though he also only pitched five or five and a third inning in each.

That was exactly the case on September 15 against the Mets, as Newcomb had allowed two runs in five innings before taking the hill in the top of the sixth, where things got dicey. After a first-pitch flyout, Newcomb yielded two consecutive singles, and then issued a six-pitch walk to the dreadfully-hitting Dominic Smith to load the bags, with the Braves hanging on to a one-run lead. That brought on Winkler from the bullpen to face the righty-hitting Juan Lagares, and Winkler had to throw only two pitches to put out the fire.

Fun times, as no more runs would score in the game, and the Braves would go on to win by the 3-2 score.

Best Single-Player Offensive Domination of a Game - Kurt Suzuki Exists, Walks Off

Actually, it’s kind of funny: the Braves didn’t have any super-dominant offensive performances in the month. The highest single-game WPA total for the month was Dansby Swanson, who had a +.427 WPA game which consisted of hitting a single when down one, hitting a single to tie the game in the eighth and then advancing to second, and then moving to third on a wild pitch (where he’d score the go-ahead run).

So, aside from that, you get Kurt Suzuki, who did something nominally more impressive: hit a walk-off single. Yeah, that’s about it. He also had another single earlier in the game.

On the plus side, it came on an 0-2 count with two outs, and it would have probably been a double under normal circumstances. Still, the Braves had a lot of walkoffs (against the Marlins) this month, but nothing beyond that worth highlighting as a dominant single-game offensive performance. If you’ve got alternative ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Best Start - Sims Mows Down Mets

Lucas Sims did not have the greatest of major league debut seasons, with each of his ERA, FIP, and xFIP over 5.00 to conclude the year. But, he did show flashes of effectiveness, including a really good start against the Mets where he hung tough, carved up their lineup, and preserved the lead until the Braves could bust it open.

Overall, on the surface, the line is only moderately impressive: six and two-thirds innings pitched, five hits, two walks, two runs, six strikeouts. It wasn’t even his best start of the year (six shutout innings against the Mariners). But, Sims was quite economical (only 93 pitches) and pretty stingy, allowing only lone singles or walks in most innings. In fact, the runs only scored after he departed, as Daniel Winkler gave up a two-run double to the first hitter he faced in the seventh to mar Sims’ line. It was also the start in which Sims put up his lowest FIP and xFIP, getting more grounders than fly outs. Not every Sims start this year was something to build on, but this one definitely was. You can watch it below.

Best Relief Outing - An Arodys Vizcaino Outing in September

As I mentioned, Arodys Vizcaino was very solid in September. This outing came during the crazy September 10 game mentioned above, and was just pretty cool to watch, in the “very dramatic but all’s well that ends well” sort of way.

Vizcaino started the top of the 11th by allowing a single to J.T. Realmuto. That’s bad. But, then he struck out Giancarlo Stanton on four pitches. That’s good. He then retired Christian Yelich on a fielder’s choice before giving up a very unfortunate groundball double to Tomas Telis to put runners on second and third, and walked Braves nemesis Justin Bour to load the basis. Then he bore down and obliterated Brian Anderson on four pitches to preserve the tie, and set up Lane Adams’ walk-off homer in the bottom of the inning.

That last pitch was nasty.

Most Crushed Ball

The 2017 was filled with Freddie Freeman going on a rampage, then having his wrist broken on a hit-by-pitch, then missing some time and the resulting sadness of Braves Country, and then coming back and not hitting quite as well as his rampaging days, leading to further gnashing of teeth about his injury, him returning too fast and/or playing through it, and his own comments about him swinging a “wet newspaper.”

Freeman ended up hitting just .128 with a .223 ISO after his return from his injury. There wasn’t a dramatic difference between July, August, and September as far as production - he had a higher BABIP but a lower ISO in August. Yet, for all that, he still had the most crushed ball for the Braves in September, a moonshot off Gio Gonzalez that went out at 108.2 miles per hour off the bat and traveled an estimated 443 feet.

Cool things about this homer include: 1) it was hit on his birthday; 2) it was his longest homer of 2017, even though it happened after, and not before, his wrist injury; 3) it was only the first of a couple of moonshots he hit off Gio Gonzalez in September; and, 4) it was a three-run shot that gave the Braves a laugher of a victory over the Nats.

No wet newspaper there, I’ll tell you that much.

And let’s not forget all the misery of this month, too. It’s only fair, given that the Braves weren’t actually any good in September.

Worst Offensive Play/Game/Everything - Matt Kemp’s Pinch-Hit Appearance

Matt Kemp was a non-entity for half of September, not starting a game after the 15th and making just four pinch-hit appearances. However, one of those resulted in one of the worst results for the Braves all season. On September 29, the Braves scored five runs in the first two innings of play, and then allowed six runs in a late-inning meltdown. They went into the top of the ninth down by a run, but loaded the bases with one out thanks to two singles and a walk. The Braves asked Matt Kemp to pinch-hit against the lefty-throwing Jarlin Garcia, and Don Mattingly went to his bullpen, bringing in the sidewinding righty Brad Ziegler. Despite having Matt Adams on the bench, the Braves left the other Matt in the game, who hit the most brutal and soul-rending first-pitch 1-2-3 double play you could have dreamed of.

That was Matt Kemp’s last plate appearance of the year, a sad end after he put up a 174 wRC+ in April and a 147 wRC+ in May. The Braves’ win expectancy went from 46 percent to 0 percent in a single swing. I’d have to check, but that may be the single worst offensive play by the Braves this year, and perhaps the single worst single-game performance to boot, as far as WPA goes.

Most Painful Opposing Plate Appearance - Matt Kemp’s Pinch-Hit Appearance

In the same vein that Kemp had the most painful Braves plate appearance in that September 29 game (for Braves fans, anyway), the single worst opposing plate appearance also came earlier in that game. In the seventh, Luiz Gohara, A.J. Minter, and Dan Winkler combined to allow six baserunners and two runs, cutting the Atlanta lead to one run with the bases loaded and two out. With Justin Bour coming to the plate, the Braves summoned Sam Freeman from the bullpen.

Sam Freeman has had a good year, with a 3.34 FIP / 3.97 xFIP, and an even better 2.64 FIP / 3.34 xFIP against lefties. Justin Bour, meanwhile, has a career 83 wRC+ against lefties and pulls 47 percent of his balls in play, which increases to 52 percent when facing lefties.

So, the Braves put Freeman into the game, and put a pretty generic shift on the field. So, of course, Bour lined a single back up the middle over the infield, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs. Bleh.

Worst Start - Gohara’s Debut

There actually weren’t too many problematic starts in September, but Luiz Gohara’s first start stuck out to me as a disappointment. In part, it’s because of how good Gohara was in his other starts. In part, it’s because he got shelled by a lineup filled with question marks and near-non factors. But really, I just wanted his debut to be memorable. The crazy thing is that if you take out Gohara’s debut, his pitching triple slash is 3.55 / 2.17 / 3.90 (it’s 4.91 / 2.75 / 4.05 with it included). So, really, I just wanted him to be more of a badass than he already was.

The start itself was fairly frustrating from a game perspective, too. Gohara gave up a first-inning homer to Elvis Andrus, he of “hey guys, I hit 36 percent of my career homers in 2017” persuasion. Then, after Matt Kemp got the lead back with a two-run shot, Gohara issued a leadoff walk to the opposing pitcher, who eventually scored on an Andrus single. Not to worry, the offense picked Gohara up with an Ender Inciarte homer, an Ozzie Albies triple, and a Freddie Freeman RBI single. But, Gohara then issued back-to-back leadoff walks, a double to Brett Nicholas (66 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR 2017, albeit in a very small sample), and then a triple to Will Middlebrooks (77 career wRC+, 46 wRC+ in 2017, not a small career sample by any stretch) that scored two more runs, transforming Gohara’s lead into Gohara’s deficit. By the way, that triple gave Middlebrooks two of his three RBI this year. To cap it off, Gohara threw a wild pitch that allowed Middlebrooks to score. (He did, however, strike out the next two hitters to end his night.)

Then, the Braves and their fans were subjected to watching Matt Wisler give up five more runs while getting just five more outs, because of course they were. Frustrating, to say the least. But hey, Gohara recovered, and all’s well that ends with a guy jumping from High-A ball to the majors in the same season and putting up a top-10 whiff rate in baseball. For whatever reason, MLB doesn’t have a sizzle reel of the start (perhaps because it wasn’t a good one), but you can watch Gohara give his thoughts on the outing below.

Worst Relief Appearance - Vizcaino’s Meltdown

Yes, Arodys Vizcaino had a good September. But man, his meltdown was epic. Holding on to a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth against the Nats, Jose Ramirez allowed a single, a double, and a walk to load the bases with one out. That summoned Arodys Vizcaino for a potential five-out save, and instead, he flamed out in spectacular, supernova fashion.

First, Vizcaino walked Daniel Murphy... on four pitches. There goes the lead. Then, Vizcaino also walked Ryan Zimmerman, albeit on seven pitches. There went the tie. Then, Vizcaino also walked Anthony Rendon, again on four pitches, with none anywhere near the zone. He threw as many strikes in the outing as batters he faced. That was it, Vizcaino got pulled for Rex Brothers, who allowed two singles to complete the “one run lead turns into four-run deficit” disaster.

I suppose you can watch this meltdown here, but why? You could also just imagine your childhood friend that was really bad at baseball trying to pitch, and losing all your tennis balls by throwing them well wide of your mitt and into the neighbor’s yard/the gutter/Narnia.

Most Crushed Balls Allowed

Ending these monthly recaps with a flourish, like the Braves failed to do in September, leads to highlight not one, but two absolute monster homers hit by Giancarlo Stanton against the Braves in September. Just total annihilation of baseballs on display, here.

The first is not the one you’re thinking of, I’m guessing. It came on September 9, off of an unfortunate Max Fried fastball in a 2-1 count.

456 feet of estimated distance, 113.7 miles per hour off the bat. I get a kick out of Ender Inciarte’s interested half-trot. It reminds me of when you think you left your wallet or phone in a cab or Lyft because you think you hear someone calling to you behind your back from across the street, so you start trotting over, and then you realize you were just hearing things and sheepishly stop forward motion. Matt Kemp, meanwhile, didn’t even bother moving.

Now this one, this is the one you’re thinking of.

Yes, he hit it beyond any of the seats. In Miami. And it was his second homer of the night. It was also the fourth-hardest homer in Statcast history, coming in at 118.7 miles per hour, and traveling an estimated 467 feet. So, you know, that’s cool. You can watch both of his homers from tonight with Statcast info below.

As always, it’s been a pleasure letting me indulge myself, and hopefully you, with these monthly recaps. Stay tuned for more next year, and a summary of the entire season in the same style, unless the Braves hire Dayton Moore as GM, in which case, I quit. Maybe.


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